I am growing tired of the debate surrounding consent; I do not understand why it is still even up for debate. In 2015, we saw an animated video sweep around social media which compared having a cup of tea with sexual consent. While the video is essentially satirical as it displays blatantly obvious common sense, it raises worrying questions as to why it needed to be created in the first place. For too long we have been living in a society entrenched in victim-blaming, and this has once again been the height of discussion this week following a string of protests and outrage across social media under the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent.
Last week, a 27-year old man was acquitted of raping a 17-year old girl in Ireland. The jury, which consisted of eight men and four women, only took an hour and a half to reach their unanimous verdict. This followed a statement made in the closing address by defence lawyer, Elizabeth O’Connell, in which she told the jurors to regard the underwear the complainant wore that night: “Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.” This is the same discourse used countless times in response to victims of sexual assault and rape. “How much had you had to drink that night?” “Did you lead them on?” “What were you wearing?” Blame is constantly being shifted from the accused to the victim. According to the Government Crime Survey for England and Wales 2017, only 17% of those who had experienced rape or assault had gone to the police and 31% had not told anyone at all. 46.8% of those who did not report it to the police said that the main reason for this was due to feeling embarrassed, and 39.58% said they did not think the police could help. This speaks volumes as to the responses victims receive and the way they are made to feel and perceive their own trauma.
In the aftermath of the trial, Irish women began to post photos of their own underwear on social media, in solidarity with the 17-year old, and a march of over 200 people descended on Cork, where the trial took place. Protesters placed underwear on the steps of the courthouse and, in Dublin, a washing line was strung between lampposts displaying underwear in all shapes, sizes, colours and materials. The story has been gaining more traction since politician, Ruth Coppinger, displayed lacy underwear in the Irish parliament, stating, “It might seem embarrassing to show a pair of thongs here in this incongruous setting” and later remarked, “women in this country are getting a little bit weary at the routine victim blaming going on in Irish courts, and the failure of lawmakers in this house to do anything about it.” Coppinger is being commended for brandishing the underwear, especially as the courts rang bells, cut the cameras away from her and she was spoken over. One radio DJ in Ireland responded to backlash by a man on a radio call-in where she said, “I want to know why you think it’s okay to wave our knickers around the court, because I’ve never seen a pair of Y-fronts in court, I’ve never seen a pair of boxer-shorts in court, and I’ve never heard that a man’s intention has been judged on his underwear.”
It just seems like we’re stuck in a never-ending cycle of the stubborn myth that provocative dress is a dominating factor in violent sexual crimes. To try and combat this ridiculous assumption, an art exhibition was held earlier this year in Belgium, called “Is it my fault?” It displayed the clothing worn by victims of rape at the time of their attack. The clothes included tracksuit bottoms, pyjamas, dresses, and even a children’s shirt with an image of “My Little Pony” on it, in order to shed light on the sickening reality of victim-blaming and attempt to demonstrate that the clothes we wear are never signalling automatic consent.
Just as we’ve seen the #MeToo and the #Time’sUp movements take off, #ThisIsNotConsent is reaching all corners of the globe, already spreading across social media platforms and national media, such as The Guardian, BBC, CBS News, This Morning and countless others. Just looking at my own underwear drawer, I have an array to choose from, from lacy thongs to grandma comfort pants. Under no circumstances am I ever involuntarily consenting to sexual contact when I decide which knickers to sport that day. If I decide to go out in a scarlet G-string it is because it makes me feel good! And I absolutely would expect that whatever I had chosen to wear under my clothes that day would not be waved around a courtroom as an excuse for my attacker. After all, every one of us has the human right to sit in a onesie, a jumper, a thong or sweet fuck all and choose to have, or not to have, a goddamn cup of tea, or anything else for that matter!